The Vulnerability of Cancer Patients to COVID-19

On Friday, the 20th of March, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Just months after the outbreak was considered a public health emergency of international concern, COVID-19 has continued to infect thousands.

It is then shortly declared by authorities that certain individuals are at a much higher risk in contracting and succumbing from this ailment such as people with HIV and cancer patients.

To avoid getting infected by this type of coronavirus, one must know how it is transmitted.

What is COVID-19 

COVID-19 is an abbreviation of CoronaVirus Disease, where 19 stands for the year it was first reported in Wuhan, China. It is a highly contagious disease that is currently infecting thousands of people at a fast rate.

This disease is thought to have originated from a zoonotic virus carried by bat or pangolin, that has mutated and is now transmitted from person-to-person. Symptoms can include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and in severe cases, pneumonia, and respiratory failure which can lead to death.

A person who exhibits symptoms of this disease (symptomatic patients), would be able to spread it by coughing, sneezing, or any other way where respiratory droplets are contracted by another unsuspecting victim.

The disease approximately has a 14-day incubation period where the person infected can be asymptomatic (doesn’t show any symptoms) during the first 5 days of getting infected. Afterwhich, “viral shedding” would begin and the patient would then show signs of the disease as the virus spreads in the respiratory system and attempts to find new host cells.

After 14 days, if the patient doesn’t manifest any severe health condition and has met all the medical requirements, they can already be dismissed. A person who is released from COVID-19 quarantine does not pose any risk to infect other people.

To avoid confusion, most government agencies and medical practitioners use the term COVID-19, or simply, coronavirus in any public health communications. SARS-CoV 2 is the actual name of the virus that causes COVID-19. This type of coronavirus is a species under severe acute respiratory-related coronavirus and is the reason that it is called SARS-CoV-2.

Contrary to what most people believe, the term “novel coronavirus” is actually a provisional name and is used for any recently identified strain of coronavirus hence, 2019 novel coronavirus. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, has already infected 266,073 as per World Health Organization on March 20, central European time.

Needless to say, this pandemic is spreading at an alarming rate and has already claimed 11,184 casualties according to WHO situation report number 61. SARS-CoV 2’s unknown nature makes it hard for scientists to make a viable vaccine and is attempting to “flatten the curve” of the rate of transmission.

The virus is spread via respiratory droplets e.g. sputum, nasal mucus, and even saliva, and is not technically airborne although it can linger for hours as aerosols. One reason for it being so contagious is the fact that this coronavirus remains alive on surfaces, one can contract it by touching infected surfaces and then touching their face.

Why Cancer Patients Needs to Take Extra Precaution

Cancer patients are at a higher risk of getting any kind of infection in general. Certain types of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma place patients at a higher risk of more serious complications.

There is much yet to learn about SARS-CoV 2 and its direct impact on cancer patients. Even so, this is a crucial time for cancer patients, both under active treatment and on remission, to take extra precautions and avoid this disease.

Aside from types of cancers, it is of no secret that certain cancer treatments can also have dire effects on a cancer patient’s health. Undergoing treatments such as radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant, and chemotherapy can have serious effects on a patient’s immune system.

With weaker immune systems, cancer patients may face a higher risk of having serious complications if they get COVID-19.

However, cancer patients are still recommended to follow any cancer-care appointments they have unless specified by their physicians.

What To Do As A Cancer Patient

Of all people, cancer patients should strictly follow the guidelines from health authorities in their respective communities since there are still a lot of studies needed to fully understand coronavirus. Among everybody else, they should observe the most recent health protocols that can help them to avoid getting the disease.

Most countries that have been heavily affected by the virus are following the same approach of attempting to minimize new infections by imposing quarantine and travel restrictions. 

This is especially true for older people, and individuals with underlying chronic health problems not limited to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Cancer patients need to stay indoors and limit contact with the public as much as possible. 

It would be good for cancer patients to have an extra-hand to help get their necessities without having to expose themselves. And if it could not be helped, wear protective equipment, avoid any contact with a high-touch surface, or use antiseptic or sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after contact.

Caregivers of cancer patients also need to take extra measures to minimize the risk of passing it to their patients. This might mean wearing masks or gloves, especially when handling the cancer patient.

Frequent and proper handwashing especially before handling food or touching one’s face and after going to public places is also effective enough to avoid contracting the disease. It is also important to wash your outdoor clothes immediately after using it because coronavirus is known to stay on the surface for hours.

Social distancing measures are now being observed in areas where community spread has been observed. Most civilians are discouraged from going out to slow down the rate of transmission and allow medical facilities to properly identify infected patients as well as their close contacts.

Slower transmissions mean medical practitioners have an ample amount of time to treat their patients and avoid overcrowding medical facilities. In doing so, medical personnel is at a lower risk of getting infected as well as maximizing the chances of having low mortality rates.


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